Cover: Consensus-based Approach to Managing Opioids, Including Opioid Misuse and Opioid Use Disorder, in Patients with Serious Illness

Consensus-based Approach to Managing Opioids, Including Opioid Misuse and Opioid Use Disorder, in Patients with Serious Illness

Protocol for a Modified Delphi Process

Published in: BMJ Open, Volume 11, Issue 5 (May 2021). doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2020-045402

Posted on Sep 22, 2021

by Caroline King, Robert Arnold, Emily Dao, Jennifer Kapo, Jane Liebschutz, Diane Meier, Judith Paice, Christine Ritchie, Kristen Czajkowski, Dmitry Khodyakov, et al.


Management of opioid misuse and opioid use disorder (OUD) among individuals with serious illness is an important yet understudied issue. Palliative care clinicians caring for individuals with serious illness, many of whom may live for months or years, describe a complex tension between weighing the benefits of opioids, which are considered a cornerstone of pain management in serious illness, and serious opioid-related harms like opioid misuse and OUD. And yet, little literature exists to inform the management of opioid misuse and OUDs among individuals with serious illness. Our objective is to provide evidence-based management guidance to clinicians caring for individuals with serious illness who develop opioid misuse or OUD.

Methods and Analysis

We chose a modified Delphi approach, which is appropriate when empirical evidence is lacking and expert input must be used to shape clinical guidance. We sought to recruit 60 clinicians with expertise in palliative care, addiction or both to participate in this study. We created seven patient cases that capture important management challenges in individuals with serious illness prescribed opioid therapy. We used ExpertLens, an online platform for conducting modified Delphi panels. Participants completed three rounds of data collection. In round 1, they rated and commented on the appropriateness of management choices for cases. In round 2, participants reviewed and discussed their own and other participants' round 1 numerical responses and comments. In round 3 (currently ongoing), participants again reviewed rounds 1 and 2, and are allowed to change their final numerical responses. We used ExpertLens to automatically identify whether there is consensus, or disagreement, among responses in panels. Only round 3 responses will be used to assess final consensus and disagreement.

Ethics and Dissemination

This project received ethical approval from the University of Pittsburgh's Institutional Review Board (study 19110301) and the RAND Institutional Research Board (study 2020-0142). Guidance from this work will be disseminated through national stakeholder networks to gain buy-in and endorsement. This study will also form the basis of an implementation toolkit for clinicians caring for individuals with serious illness who are at risk of opioid misuse or OUD.

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